Digest: Industry, test thyself; biofuel polluters, genocide v. sodas
Test and ye shall find: Reporting for NPR, Sam Fromartz goes inside Natural Selection Foods, the mega-grower at the center of last year's spinach E. coli scare, which has started an ambitious testing program for all its produce. It's discovered the bacteria is a lot more prevalent than previously thought, but as Marion Nestle points out, nothing grown in the ground can be considered entirely risk-free. Meanwhile, SoCal grocery chain Bristol Farms announces it will sell only seafood certified by Safe Harbor to have a lowest-available mercury level, meeting a stricter standard than the FDA's. With Creekstone Beef trying to do its own mad-cow testing — although blocked by the USDA — it's starting to look like the industry either thinks there's money to be made by exceeding U.S. food-safety standards, or lawsuits to be avoided by covering their asses.
Not-so-clean energy: Biofuel plants in Iowa — many of them recently commissioned — have been violating laws protecting water, land and air with alarming frequency thanks to the 'full speed ahead' mentality and the fact that regulators have been unable to keep up with monitoring of plants. Among the violations reported is this doozy: "Siouxland Energy & Livestock in Sioux Center, was cited for releasing contaminated wastewater in an attempt to dilute a manure spill from a neighboring cattle operation." (Des Moines Register)
Coke held hostage: A surreally perky report on how Sudan's ambassador to the United States has threatened to cut off exports of gum arabica, a key component in soft drinks, if the Bush administration imposes economic sanctions to halt what many call the ongoing genocide in Darfur. Gum arabic is an emulsifier made from the acacia tree; Sudan exports 80% of the world's supply. The article asks: "Do we really have to choose between our lofty desire to save innocent lives and our desire to have a Coke and a smile"? Gee, what is this, "Sophie's Choice"? Never fear, solipsistic liquid-candy addicts: Coke has an alternate supplier. (ABC News; thanks Cookie Jill!)
Labor realities: The shortage of immigrant labor picking fruit on farms in the West may make headlines, but it disguises a much larger issue — that illegal immigrants also help big agribusinesses to keep prices low by working in processing and packaging. (New York Times)
Your tax dollars to help sell veal: Farm Sanctuary is squawking about an amendment to the Farm Bill, introduced by the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry, to grant $12 million to the struggling veal industry. According to USDA figures, veal consumption per person has steadily declined from 1.5 lbs. to only .5 lbs. (Press release) FYI: $12 million is how much the USDA currently spends on research on organic agriculture, 0.6 of its research budget. What is it with this particular subcommittee and its sneaky language, anyway?
Rare-fruit collector Bill Whitman dies at age 92 (New York Times)
Salmonella-tainted peanut butter sickened 628, CDC reports (Food Consumer)
FEATURES & COMMENTARY
Have Prozac at the ready: A gripping, well-reported article about the proliferation of plastic — in our oceans, marine life, and probably, our bodies — admits it is "wrist-slittingly depressing ... but there are glimmers of hope on the horizon." (Best Life Magazine, via No Impact Man)
Carpetbaggers with bottles: Across the U.S., rural communities are footing the bill for the booming bottled water industry. Nestlé's advance on a small town in Northern California is the latest egregious example of the privatization of water. (AlterNet)
Pass the bucks, please: William Hubbard, former associate commissioner of the FDA, says the government needs to fess up that its budget is to blame for the recent food-safety crises. (Boston Globe)
How elitist of them: A study of food costs by students at Seattle University found that farmers market produce was slightly less expensive than comparable produce in the grocery store. (Seattle Times)
Kingsolver curmudgeon: Ronald Bailey has the first cranky review of "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" we've seen, and it's an interesting twist. Bailey was raised on a farm and shops at farmers markets, but is darn glad to be free of the drudgery — he thinks Kingsolver's memoir is more of a "novel; a fiction about how easy and pleasant it is to grow all of one's food." (Reason Magazine)
Amish ya when you're gone: For many years Burtonsville, MD, has been home to a thriving farmers market made up of Amish farmers who commute in from Pennsylvania. But the site is to be razed and replaced with a supermarket. (Washington Post)
Blaming ethanol: An article about the rising costs of food, particularly those that depend on cheap corn (meat, dairy, those with corn syrup) points the finger at ethanol-driven demand, but fails to mention that cheap corn was artificially priced to begin with, or that rising oil prices impact fertilizer costs. (Star Tribune)
Stalking the wheat forecast: More than 50 food industry figures spend three days in the field analyzing Kansas's wheat crops. (Reuters)
iTuber, YouTuber: The Idaho Potato Commission has launched an Internet video contest celebrating the state's spud. Submissions can be "humorous, artistic, or serious." (Progressive Grocer, thanks Cookie Jill!)
Term "sustainability" holds little to no meaning for consumers (Gourmet Retailer)
New Orleans French Market ready to reopen (Guardian Unlimited)
ON THE BLOGS, ETC.
A watershed moment for ag policy, and blogs: Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) sits down at TPM Cafe's Table for One this week to discuss his excellent "Food and Farm Bill of Rights" and other ag-policy topics. He also requests feedback and questions from readers (free registration required to post comments). (TPM Cafe)
Help the farmer, not the "sector": Sorry, but we can't stop linking to Dan Owens, who heroically cuts through the bureaucratpeak bullshit around the Farm Bill. Today he explains who's for and against subsidy caps, and why, in this must-read post: "Today, the winners are the farmers who play the subsidy game with their lawyers and accountants. And I don't want them to win. I want diversified family farms throughout rural America, and I sure as hell don't want my tax dollars being used to subsidize the destruction of those farms." (Blog for Rural America)
Dairy diary: Jay from the San Diego restaurant the Linkery visits large and small milk operations in Iowa, and offers some interesting observations about the industry. (Casing the Joint)
We'll second that: Ed Levine says, "We need more investment bankers becoming butchers and sausage makers. I think we have enough cupcake bakers in this country." (Serious Eats)
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